The vampiresses stopped speaking about witchcraft and threats as a smiling Sookie made her way downstairs.
“Do you have another brother, Sookie? Yours is broken; he seems to prefer a shifter to me!” Pam said as if horrified.
Sookie chuckled. “It’s a Christmas party, Pam, not a hook-up place for you.”
“Whatever,” the younger vampiress said before turning to go back to the living room.
Sookie handed Thalia the vial. “I—uh—guess it’s working?”
“It is,” the vampiress confirmed as she took what seemed to be an empty vial from Sookie’s hands.
“Do I need to take it into the living room?” Sookie asked.
“No need. The Weres did not enter any other room of the house,” Thalia responded confidently before leaving the house without another word.
“Oh—uh—thanks!” Sookie yelled out even as she looked anxiously toward the road as if intuiting that Eric would be there any minute. On impulse, she decided to grab Gran’s old shawl and step out onto the porch to wait for Eric. She closed her eyes and imagined the two of them joining the others together. She couldn’t have explained in words why she felt that it was so necessary to wait for him, but nothing felt more right in that moment.
Done with her task of adequately distributing the witch’s spell—which was working even better than she’d imagined it would—Thalia turned to Sookie. The telepath was glad that the vampiress did not ask her why she’d chosen to venture out in the cold; she merely nodded to Sookie before moving toward the woods—where she seemed to feel most at home.
After taking a moment to wonder if she’d ever “crack the nut” that was Thalia, Sookie went to the old porch swing Grandpa Mitchell had put up for Gran. On that swing—which had been given as a gift of love from a husband to his wife—the telepath couldn’t help but to think about the story Mr. Cataliades had told her about her family. She knew that it would take her a while to come to terms with the fact that Gran and Grandpa had both agreed to the arrangement with Fintan. It didn’t matter that they’d had their memories altered after the fact either; what mattered was that they’d traded Gran’s fidelity for children.
She shook her head; she’d already spent quite a bit of time thinking about that impossible choice for her grandparents. Back during the time period when they’d been in their 20s, adoption would have been seen differently and—perhaps—wouldn’t have been as easy to do in some ways. Still, Sookie wondered why her grandparents hadn’t pursued that option. She touched her own belly, wondering if Gran had chosen what she did because she’d so fervently longed to actually carry a child.
“I’ll never know,” Sookie said to herself, even as she knew that her words counted for both the mysteries Gran left behind as well as for her own situation. During the last week, as she’d been contemplating what her grandparents had done to have children, she had become even more certain that she did not desire to give birth to children of her own.
Yes—that had something to do with the fact that she could now imagine only one father for them, and that man could not impregnate her. However, unlike in Gran’s time, artificial insemination could enable her to feel all the parts of motherhood without ever being unfaithful to the man of her heart. Of course, there was adoption, too. And Sookie had opted to leave the door open when it came to that last option; after all, if she ever ran across a telepathic child that needed her help and had no one else, then she would definitely step in. She could even see herself adopting or acting as a foster parent for two-natured children, who had no other home to call their own. However, she had realized that she was not in a stage of her life when she would seek out motherhood.
It just wasn’t practical. And—hearing the minds of the two-natured guards both inside her home enjoying themselves and outside patrolling the perimeter of her property—she also knew that it wasn’t safe for a child either.
She sighed and took her hand off of her belly, pulling the shawl more closely around her shoulders.
When she thought about becoming a mother, she returned again and again to a contemplation of her own telepathy. Simply put—though she’d been coming to terms with her own gift—she didn’t want to pass it along to any biological child. Also, she felt that having a mind-reading parent would somehow steal something from a “normal” child. He or she might be so self-conscious about being “overheard” that he or she might not be able to formulate an authentic identity.
Plus, there would be ever-present danger in her life. Sookie had made the choice to “come out” as a telepath. But any child she had wouldn’t even have the option of anonymity. A telepathic child would be shackled to guards for his or her entire life. And a “more human” child—including an adopted one—would be vulnerable to being made a pawn. She found neither idea acceptable.
Yes—she was coming to terms with just how far Gran had gone for motherhood; however, she’d also come to understand that she wasn’t like her grandmother—at least not in that way.
As she felt certainty in that decision warm her mind even better than the shawl was warming her body, she “heard” Eric’s void come into her range. A smile widening her lips, she stood and went to the porch steps. Only a few moments later, an SUV rumbled up the driveway, and even before it seemed possible to have stopped and parked the vehicle, Eric was standing in front of her.
He took a moment to take her in. She was wearing a cranberry sweater-dress that fit her curves just right, black tights, and soft black UGG boots.
“You look beautiful tonight,” Eric said somewhat huskily before taking her into his arms and then giving her a kiss that was the perfect mixture of hard and soft.
It seemed like a promise of what was to come. At least, the telepath hoped that it was.
When she was breathless, Eric stepped back from her.
“Merry Christmas,” she smiled, taking him in. He’d opted for a V-neck sweater and jeans. The sweater—Christmas green in color—managed to find all the green in his blue eyes and draw it out, even in the dim glow of the porch light.
“Merry Christmas,” the vampire grinned, his eyes lighting up with as much mischief as color in that moment. “I don’t think your gift will wait.”
The vampire felt Sookie’s anticipation rocket upwards. “My puppy?” she asked. “But you said it wouldn’t be here till tomorrow.”
The vampire shrugged. “I know the gift isn’t really a surprise, but I wanted to make it as much of one as I could—to bring the pup before you expected him.”
The telepath grinned and giggled, even as a yelp was heard from the SUV. Taking her hand, Eric led her to the vehicle and opened the back door. Sitting up in a dog bed was the cutest puppy Sookie had ever seen.
“A German Shepherd!” she squealed, even as she stuck out her hand, palm down for the puppy to smell. Immediately, he licked her offered fingers, and she began to pet him.
“Come,” Eric said. The puppy took the word as his permission to jump to the floor of the SUV before jumping out of the vehicle. “He’s mostly German Shepherd,” Eric informed. “He’s a quarter wolf.”
“Is that safe?” Sookie asked, even as she bent down to pet the head and ears of the puppy. Now that he was out of the vehicle, she could better appreciate just how pretty he was. While German Shepherds were often black and brown, the puppy in front of her was black and silver.
“Not for anyone who tries to harm you,” Eric informed with a smirk. “But—to people he does not see as a threat—he will do no harm. Colonel Flood has bred this sort of dog for years, and he swears by their loyalty and intelligence. The crossbreeding also does away with many of the health issues full-blooded German shepherds may suffer in later life, though he suggested that you keep an eye on the animal’s hip health past his tenth year or so.” As Sookie continued petting the puppy, Eric continued, “Flood is going to come over from time to time to help you finish the pup’s training. In the meantime, he already knows simple commands and is well-behaved. The Colonel believes that he will imprint upon you quickly, and—after that—he will be an extremely devoted companion to you.”
“Imprint?” Sookie asked.
“He will claim you,” Eric said, his smirk reappearing and more mischievous than before.
“Claim—huh?” she chuckled, rising to stand.
“Basically. Yes. Once he decides that you are his, he will protect you and love you above all others,” he explained, though his expression had become more serious—much more meaningful.
Sookie reached up to cup his cheek before lifting herself up onto her tiptoes to lightly kiss him. After the gentle kiss, she sighed as she took in the look in his beautiful eyes. It was the look of a man who had already claimed her—a look of one who’d been claimed by her as well.
“I love you, Eric Northman,” she whispered.
“I love you, Sookie Stackhouse,” he returned.
Just then, the puppy at Sookie’s feet yelped, one of its ears rising as it picked up a sound from the tree line.
“Just a squirrel,” Eric said when Sookie looked toward the woods.
She beamed as she bent down to pet the little dog. “He’s perfect! Thank you!” she enthused before launching herself into Eric’s arms. Her excitement seemed to transfer to the pup, and he yelped at Eric’s feet as the vampire joyously spun Sookie around in circles.
“We told each other,” she said a little breathlessly when he stopped their spinning. “We actually said it.”
He nodded. They’d been indicating their love for each other since the Saturday before, but never so directly. “We did.”
She giggled. “I didn’t say it because you just brought me the cutest dog in the world either. Well—at least not just because of that.”
He chuckled. “That is good to know. I am glad you did say it, however—whatever the catalyst.”
“I’m glad you said it too,” she agreed. The two stared at each other for a moment, Sookie blushing a bit when she realized that she was still dangling from his neck, though his strong arms were helping to hold her up.
“Shall we join the others?” Eric asked when he felt Sookie shiver in his arms.
“Can he come inside?” Sookie asked, looking at the puppy.
“Of course. He is housebroken,” Eric informed. “And—after I greet your guests—I will bring in his accessories and get him acquainted with them.”
Eric felt a wave of displeasure from Sookie. “Or—perhaps—you wish to settle him in yourself?” the vampire asked, stating what he felt was the likely reason for her sudden mood alteration.
“Oh—no. Um—that’s okay.” she quickly said. “Actually, I think I’d like for us to do it together.”
“Alright. But what is wrong?” he asked. “I felt your displeasure in the blood tie, Dearest One. I do not wish for you to be displeased on this night.”
She shrugged and gave him an apologetic smile. “Nothing’s wrong. It’s just that—I have been thinking of the people inside as our guests, not just mine. Maybe it’s—uh—silly, especially since—um—Tara’s my official cohost and all, but . . . ,” she stammered before Eric interrupted her by drawing her quickly back into his arms for a searing kiss.
When she was breathless, he let her go. The puppy was staring up at them as if wondering what had left his new mistress panting.
“Not silly,” he said huskily. “An honor.”
Sookie smiled brightly and took his hand before leading him inside, the puppy shadowing her, his tail wagging happily.
FOUR HOURS LATER
Sookie’s cheeks and mouth were sore from all the smiling and laughing she’d been doing. In truth, it was difficult for her to imagine being much happier than she was in that moment.
“This was awesome, Sook,” Jason said as he sat next to Sookie on the couch with his third piece of pie.
“I think Tara made that one,” she said of the pumpkin pie on his plate.
Jason chortled. “Oh—ah—well the pie’s all kinds of awesome, too, Sook. But I meant this,” he said, using his fork to gesture to the people in the room.
Sookie nodded. “All that’s missing is Gran,” she sighed, feeling a little melancholy for the first time that night.
Jason set his empty plate down on the coffee table and put his arm around his sister’s shoulder. “I hate how she went, Sook. I really do, but she taught us not to question things that have to do with the timing of God or the universe or—uh—whatever’s—um—driving this place—uh planet. You know—the earth,” he said with a shrug. He sighed loudly. “I know it was harder on you—finding her like you did—in the—uh—kitchen. And I wasn’t there like I should have been after. But I’m here now, and I’m here to tell you that she’d be proud of what you’ve done—and not just with this party tonight. I’m talkin’ about the choices you’ve been makin’ to better your life. Your new job, your new man—well they’re just a part of it.” He looked at her closely. “It’s the new look in your eyes—the look that says, ‘I’m Sookie Stackhouse, and I’m a badass mind-reader and proud of it,’—that she’d be most proud of.”
Sookie shook her head a little and frowned. “I don’t know, Jase. She never much encouraged me to use my telepathy. She always said it was safer to hide it.”
“Maybe she didn’t encourage it, but I know she always thought you were destined for somethin’ greater than slingin’ beers at Merlotte’s. And I know she’d be real happy that you’re so—uh—you know—happy! And I know she wouldn’t want you thinkin’ about the past—not when you’ve got so much to look forward to,” he added.
Sookie brushed a tear away and looked over at Eric, who was speaking with Bubba and Molly. She knew that he’d been keeping an eye on her as well, and she could see his discomfort and his concern at her tear. “I do have a lot to look forward to,” she said, catching Eric’s eye.
“Speakin’ of looking forward to stuff,” Jason said slyly, “Onawa and me is gonna take off—okay?”
Sookie nodded, even as she shored up her shields so that she wouldn’t be able to overhear the specifics of what Jason was looking forward to “taking off” of his new girlfriend that evening.
Just then, Tara and Tray came into the house, a little rosy from the chilly temperature. The puppy, whom Sookie had decided to name Shadow—after everyone weighed in with their suggestions after meeting the little pup—trailed them.
“Thanks for taking him out,” Sookie smiled at her friends.
“No problem,” Tara smiled, coming forward to give Sookie a quick hug. She continued in a low voice as Jason moved away to “collect” Onawa. “Thanks so much for letting me cohost Sookie,” the brunette smiled. “The last few Christmases haven’t seemed much like holidays. But this one has been amazing.”
“A new tradition?” Sookie smiled.
“You bet!” Tara enthused.
Jason’s exit seemed to spur the others to bid their farewells as well. Though Sookie didn’t want to contemplate the “treats” Pam promised Bubba in his “stocking,” which was waiting for him in the alleyway behind Fangtasia, she was happy to see Bubba looking so excited. He left with Molly, who had a date with a “cute geek,” who was ready to escape from his family gathering. Willow caught a ride with Mustapha and Warren. And—after gathering up some leftovers—Tara and Tray left as well.
Sookie came in from helping Tara and Tray carry things out to Tara’s car to find Pam and Eric cleaning up the kitchen at vampire speed.
Her eyes wide open because of the speed at which they were moving, Sookie asked, “Uh—do y’all need any help or anything?”
Pam’s blur stopped for a moment. “We’ll work faster if you aren’t helping—no offense.”
“None taken,” Sookie giggled before sitting down to watch the vampire “show.” She noticed that Shadow sat next to her chair and then leaned his head against her leg. Sookie reached down to give him a pat, making sure to rub his ears as she’d already discovered he enjoyed.
Not three minutes later, Sookie marveled at her spotless kitchen. Indeed, the only dishes not cleaned, dried, and put away were those that had been brought over by Tara, and they had been washed and placed out of the way in a box—so that they could be returned to their owner.
“I see you and your little shadow enjoyed the show,” Pam laughed. The name—Shadow—had been her suggestion, after seeing that the puppy was already trailing after Sookie closely within the first few minutes of meeting his new owner.
“Y’all could make a lot of money as maids,” Sookie grinned.
“Well—I could pull off a French maid costume, but I don’t know about that one,” Pam said with some sass as she gestured toward her maker.
Eric chuckled and came over to pull Sookie up and into his arms. Shadow popped up as well, again proving the appropriateness of his name.
“I’ll be outside,” Pam said in a low voice.
“Outside?” Sookie asked.
“There are only a few Weres here tonight—because of the holiday,” Eric relayed.
“I’ll just be staying until Bubba returns. After that, I have my own feast to get to,” Pam said with a smirk. “It’s a buffet really: a blonde, a brunette, and two redheads.”
Sookie shook her head. “TMI Pam. But—uh—thanks so much for coming. And for helping with the dishes. And for staying. I feel bad about you going outside though.”
Pam snorted and looked at Eric significantly. “I think you two would probably appreciate a bit of privacy, and don’t worry about the dishes. Eric’s promised to do the Fangtasia schedule for the next month.”
Sookie went into the living room with Pam, and the two spent a couple of minutes thanking each other and complimenting their exchanged Christmas gifts as Eric went outside to get the rest of Shadow’s accessories. So far, only his food and water bowls had been set up—with Sookie deciding to put them on the mud porch.
Eric passed Pam as she was leaving the house.
“I was skeptical of her—especially her and you as a couple,” the vampiress said in a low voice.
“I know,” Eric said.
“I’m not anymore—not after watching her work this week and watching you with her tonight,” she added.
“I know,” he repeated significantly.
“You found a family,” Pam said somewhat dumbfoundedly.
“You have too,” he chuckled.
Pam rolled her eyes and progressed to her car to stow her gift from Sookie—a beautiful pink cashmere sweater. Eric chuckled as he noticed that Pam was changing her shoes before beginning guard duty—from her brand-new Manolo Blahniks to last year’s Jimmy Choos. He noted that they still matched her outfit.
The Viking entered the house to find Sookie sitting on the floor in front of the fire, Shadow’s head in her lap.
“I don’t know how I feel about the competition for your affection,” the vampire chuckled.
“You think there’s competition?” she asked playfully as she scratched the puppy’s ears.
Eric chuckled a little louder. “Maybe. So—are you going to finally clue me in about why Pam physically stopped me from going upstairs earlier and why I can smell magic in the house?” he asked teasingly.
Sookie chuckled and shook her head. “I should have thought about you smelling the magic. It’s bein’ used to cover up other scents, but—of course—you smelled it.”
The vampire’s eyebrow lifted. “And what scents is it covering?”
“Your Christmas gift,” she said, biting her lip a little. “Let’s get Shadow settled down here, and then I’ll show you.”
Eric nodded. “I put his travel crate on the mud porch. I got several beds, thinking you’d want to use them in various places.”
Sookie nodded. “Let’s put one in the living room. I’ll take him out one last time and then make sure he remembers where his water is. Will you put out the fire?”
Again, the vampire nodded as Sookie stood, Shadow following right behind. She paused as she passed the vampire and rose up to kiss his cheek before offering him a shy smile.
“I’m sure I’ll like my gift,” Eric said, sensing Sookie’s apprehension.
“I hope so,” the telepath smiled up at him before leading Shadow to the door.
A/N: I had no idea that this section of the story would actually correspond to Christmas time. LOL. Anyway, I hope you liked this little family snapshot, as well as Eric and Sookie’s exchanged words of love. Despite the relatively short timeline of this story (and the fact that Sookie’s relationship with Bill ended only a couple of weeks earlier), I wanted this moment to feel authentic—not forced or “too soon.”
I hope I succeeded.
Anyway, please leave me a comment if you have the time and/or inclination.